Thursday, March 19, 2009

In the Weeds

THE first mowing of the season is long overdue in our front garden. I was thinking it looked a little shaggy, then shamefully unkempt until this week, when a purple-flowered weed popped into bloom all across the lawn, which looks quite lovely. Now, after spending two hours lying in the 'meadow' examining the different kinds of non-grass and watching the bugs, I rather wish we could keep it long.

What makes a weed a weed? A close look at some of the flowering kinds revealed some pretty little flowers, no less attractive than some you would pay for. The bees certainly make no such arbitrary distinction. They buzzed by the dozen around the purple henbit, oblivious to our presence. Henbit has an interesting shape: it has square stems and the upper leaves fan out, appearing to encircle the entire stem like a wax catcher on a candle.

I was surprised to find a delicate yellow flower on another weed whose leaves I have seen often. This turned out to be sorrel. Native Americans have used different varieties of this plant in different ways: chewing the leaves to alleviate thirst, feeding its crushed bulbs to their horses to enhance their speed, and boiling the plant to make a yellowish-orange dye.

We have no daisies to make chains from nor buttercups to shine under your chin to see if you like butter, like I did as a child. But we found other things to do. We dug up wild onions to look at the bulb and smell the crushed leaves, blew dandelion clocks, watched ladybirds climb up waving stems, gently pushed back leaves to see glittery slug trails and watched ants weave their way around their leafy cities. Emma dug a hole and buried her hand. She noticed how cool it was in the ground, and concluded that roots must prefer cool places and flowers warm places.

"A weed is but an unloved flower."
~Ella Wheeler Wilcox

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